Practise what you preach

Cardinal Brady has no right to lecture anyone on the morals of abortion when, back in the 1970s, his ineptitude failed to protect children from clerical sex abuse, argues Michael Clifford

THERE are times when irony descends into farce. On Sunday, Cardinal Seán Brady was interviewed on RTÉ radio’s current affairs programme, This Week. He was on the phone, which was a strange way for the Primate of All Ireland to address the nation in this day and age. His chosen subject was abortion, a good choice for a hierarchy reeling from scandals. But what amazed was the sheer neck he displayed in lecturing on morals.

The cardinal referred more than once to “respect for all human life”. He described the Supreme Court judgement in the X case as “flawed”, as if he knew better than the judges appointed to administer the law in a republic. And he made a point of referencing the welfare of small children, in relation to the forum from where he threw himself into the abortion issue on Friday.

Coming from another member of the hierarchy, these issues would be regarded as standard fare. But the cardinal is a man who has practically no moral authority in light of what has emerged about his role in covering up clerical sex abuse.

Earlier this year, it emerged that he was one member of a team of clerics that in 1975 interviewed a 15-year-old Brendan Boland about the activities of paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth. The boy told the panel of others who had been abused by Smyth, yet he was sworn to secrecy about the process, and Smyth kept on abusing. The report was passed up to the hierarchy, and the 35-year-old Fr Brady, as he was then, washed his hands of it.

One of those Brendan Boland had named as a victim of Smyth was interviewed soon after by Fr Brady. The boy’s parents were never told about the interview or the abuse the boy spoke of, and Smyth carried on.

Another priest who was close to the process did inform the parents. He eventually left the priesthood. Brady went on to rise through the ranks, a safe pair of hands for an institution that was, we now know, morally corrupt.

When this scandal emerged earlier this year, there were calls for Brady to resign. These calls came from within and without the Church, and included a call from Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore. Yet the cardinal toughed it out.

Now he’s back. Having shown such disregard for young lives at the lower rungs of the career ladder, the cardinal is now lecturing the nation on how it must respect the sanctity of “all human life”, his definition of which is based on religious rather than scientific grounds.

Whatever about irony, neck or morals, the issue is a good one for the cardinal from a PR point of view. After a torrid time with scandals and dissent over the last few years, here is something that can galvanise the faithful and divert eyes and memories from the absolute deficit of moral authority at the top of the Church.

Over the past few years, the Church has been under attack from many quarters. At the rank-and-file level, those who retain their faith have had to grapple with all that has emerged about the hierarchy’s cover-up clerical abuse.

There has been a backlash from outside the Church. In government, there was a proposal to include the confessional in a law on disclosing abuse. The decision to shut the Vatican embassy smacked of spite rather than economics.

At a clerical level, priests have become so disillusioned that the Association of Catholic Priests has grown into a body of considerable size and, relatively speaking, influence. A meeting hosted by the association in Dublin in May attracted in excess of 1,000 people, illustrating the sense of disillusion abroad. The priests have also had to contend with dictats from Rome about public comment. As a result, at least three well-known priests have been effectively silenced.

Against this background, something serious was required to galvanise the faithful under the single standard, reminding all that they are aligned to the one, true Church. And so it’s back to the future, to the old reliable: Abortion.

The manner in which Cardinal Brady has cranked up the abortion debate speaks plenty for the hierarchy’s priorities. The forum chosen for the initial address was the Edmund Rice Summer school in Waterford. Edmund Rice founded the Christian Brothers, sacrificing a life of material wealth in order to educate impoverished boys.

In light of Rice’s legacy, an obvious theme for the cardinal’s address would have been education disadvantage, and how, in the current climate, much of the advances made since Rice are in danger of being reversed.

BUT the cardinal had bigger fish to fry. Instead, he dragged poor old Edmund into the abortion debate.

“I believe he [Rice] would have been encouraged by the number of young people at the [Eucharistic] Congress who, with compassion, sensitivity, and deep conviction, explained why human life should be protected and respected in our laws from the first moment of conception through to natural death.”

The cardinal went on to reference his own knowledge of the law, which he deems superior to those who make or administer the law.

“The recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights on A, B and C vs. Ireland did not oblige the Irish Government to legislate for any form of abortion in Ireland. I believe any attempt to do so, even by way of a ministerial directive, will be vigorously and comprehensively opposed by many.”

Having flown the kite, he was ready to address the nation by Sunday. In these media-savvy days, few civic, business, or political leaders would choose to perform a radio interview on the phone. For one thing, the sound quality is not as good as a live setting. In order to properly address the nation, you need a studio, although not necessarily the same one in which the interviewer is sitting.

The advantage of doing it by phone, however, is that you can physically have advice at your side. You are not as exposed as in a studio setting.

The cardinal wanted to get the message out to the faithful with as little noise about the rest of his or the Church’s affairs. Abortion. Abortion. Abortion. We’re back!!

The following day, the value of the abortion issue to the Church was illustrated by the comments of John Murray, a theologian who is a director of the Iona Institute.

Dr Murray said you could not consider yourself a Catholic and be open to abortion.

“If somebody within the Church is publicly promoting abortion, then that person will be disciplined by the Church.”

The implication is obvious. It’s not just those who perform or seek an abortion who are to be cast out. Politicians, charged with legislating for citizens in a republic, must owe first allegiance to the Church when it comes to doing their jobs. Otherwise, they also are unclean.

Were the Church as pernickety about those engaging in murder, violence or white-collar crime, it might not be in the position it is now in.

Abortion remains illegal in this country, but it’s still big business for one institution trying to claw back its tattered credibility.


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